Beyond Power Politics: Are there any prospects for a successful peace-building dialogue in Cameroon?


National dialogues are an important instrument that can be used to resolve conflict and build lasting peace. According to Inclusive Peace, an international organization, a national dialogue is an inclusive, multi-stakeholder negotiation in which large segments of society and politics are represented, and meant to address a broad range of societal, political, and economic issues concerning the entire country. [1] National dialogues have shaped peace-making, political reforms, and/or constitution-making processes in countries across the globe such as Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen. [2]

In October 2019, the government of Cameroon organized a national dialogue primarily aimed at addressing the conflict in the Northwest and Southwest regions, which has been going on for over six years. Four years after Cameroon’s hyped national dialogue, the prospects for peace in the country’s restive English-speaking regions are still distant and violence seems to have increased in a more dangerous manner.

External actors, such as the Swiss and Canadian governments have shown interest in mediating a more inclusive dialogue and to broker peace between belligerents. Even so, there are different expectations by people living in these regions about what peacebuilding initiative could offer a long-lasting solution to the crisis. The objective of this paper is to assess previous attempts towards organizing an inclusive peacebuilding dialogue, the effectiveness of previous negotiation efforts in addressing the anglophone conflict, and to propose evidence-based recommendations that could lead to a more successful negotiated settlement of the said conflict.

Assessing the Effectiveness of Previous Negotiation Efforts Toward Resolving Cameroon’s Anglophone Conflict

1. The Major National Dialogue

The main official attempt towards resolving the anglophone conflict, was a major national dialogue organized between September 30th to October 4th, 2019, on the instructions of the President of the Republic H.E Paul Biya. This led to the adoption of several resolutions towards restoring peace in the affected regions. Some of these include granting a “special status” to the Northwest and Southwest regions, enhancing the practice of bilingualism and national social cohesion, educational reforms, reforms in the judicial system, reconstruction and development of conflict-affected areas, decentralization, amongst others. [3]

According to the government of Cameroon, the dialogue was successful, and efforts are underway to implement some of the above resolutions [4]. To many secessionists and separatist groups, the 2019 dialogue process was a “non-event” that has nothing to do with their “struggle” for an independent state called “Ambazonia.” [5] Exchange experts on their part, describe the 2019 major national dialogue as a government monologue. This is because the national dialogue process was organized, run, and managed by the government who imposed their agenda on the proceedings and gave almost no room for other stakeholders’ input into the process. [6]

Over three years after the Major National Dialogue, much has not changed. Inclusive Peace, a think tank supporting international peace processes, describes Cameroon’s dialogue as “An unfinished business with a long way to go for inclusive conflict resolution.” [7] The resolutions have failed to address the conflict, as many schools in the Northwest and Southwest still remain closed and inaccessible, ghost towns have not stopped, several attacks by armed groups, looting, kidnappings and killings are the order of the day.

2. Failed Swiss-led Peace Talks

In an effort to end the protracted armed conflict, the government of Switzerland in collaboration with a Swiss NGO (Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue) and the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs had previously offered to mediate talks between the separatist leaders and the Cameroonian government.

The government’s reaction toward this was ambiguous and in September 2022, an official statement was issued, suspending government participation in the Swiss process out of distrust and inviting Switzerland and other interested stakeholders to support Cameroon in implementing the resolutions of the 2019 national dialogue in Cameroon. [8]

3. Canadian-led Peace talks

On January 30th, 2023, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Melanie Joly, issued an announcement on its role as mediator in a peace process aimed at resolving the ongoing crisis in the Northwest and Southwest regions, and noted that three pre-talks had already taken place in Ontario and Quebec to that effect. This was endorsed by the U.S. and UK governments and Cameroonians were very hopeful about this new development.

Many analysts opined that the Canadian led peace talks had succeeded in bringing more momentum than earlier efforts by Switzerland. However, the government of Cameroon has denied claims of entrusting any foreign country with the role of mediator. Anglophone armed separatists responded to government’s statement with renewed campaigns for violence and attacks on government forces in English speaking regions.

On its part, government is on the move to recruit more soldiers to step up patrols in these regions. The erratic response by Cameroonian officials to the Canadian led talks has shattered the hopes of many people living in the Anglophone regions and desperately seeking help to end violence.

Advocacy groups, such as the International Crisis Group, working in the region have hinted the possibilities and risks of more violence in the Anglophone regions following government’s rejection of Canadian peace talks. [9]

Propositions Toward Successful Peace Talks in Cameroon

For national dialogues to succeed, they must fulfil a number of criteria. As suggested by Susan Stigant and Elizabeth Murray, of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), national dialogues will have a higher likelihood of success if they incorporate the principles of inclusion, transparency and public participation, a far-reaching agenda, a credible convener, appropriate and clear rules of procedure, and an implementation plan. These need to be adapted to various national contexts and changing conflict dynamics. [10] Chris W.J. Roberts, a Canadian Global Affairs Institute fellow, shares the same view and suggests that the best, permanent solution to the anglophone crisis would be a transparent, inclusive negotiated peace process. This would lead to a free and fair internationally supervised referendum that includes a clear question on institutional arrangements, including independence. [11]

In addition to the above suggestions, the following should be considered:

  • Regional and international efforts should be directed toward prioritizing humanitarian access which has been affected by non-state armed groups and government forces.
  • International support is needed to encourage the civil society to promote peaceful discussions on issues relevant for future national dialogues. Cameroon’s ambiguous anti-terrorism law must be amended to open the shrinking civic space.
  • Western powers can coordinate targeted sanctions, travel bans against individuals benefiting from and inciting violence on both sides. Freezing assets of major political leaders and elite, as well as separatist leaders involved in the crisis, will pressure stakeholders to engage in a genuine dialogue process.
  • Restrictive financial measures could be taken against Cameroon, by IFIs (the IMF and World Bank) to put more pressure on the state to engage with other stakeholders for an inclusive dialogue.
  • The African Union or any of its individual member states should assume a leadership role by working closely and supporting stakeholders in the spirit of “African Solutions to African Problems” for an inclusive dialogue process in Cameroon.
  • Academic institutions and Cameroonian based think tanks should investigate if “national dialogues” can truly provide solutions to the Anglophone crisis and other possible peacebuilding initiatives available for sustainable peace and development.


National dialogues can be very useful in peacebuilding. Nevertheless, they can be ineffective when government interests thrive over the interests of the citizens. The 2019 Major National Dialogue in Cameroon has not successfully addressed the conflict, pushing many experts to question its effectiveness.

In order to restore peace in Cameroon’s restive anglophone regions, the state must put aside its interests and be willing to have an inclusive negotiated, transparent and fair settlement of the conflict.


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